Opinion
Teacher Preparation Opinion

An Open Letter to NCTQ on Teacher Prep

By Donald E. Heller, Avner Segall & Corey Drake — December 10, 2013 6 min read

To the National Council on Teacher Quality:

Thank you for sending your invitation for the Michigan State University College of Education to submit new materials for the next round of the National Council on Teacher Quality’s teacher-prep review. While our college willingly and fully complied with your first review, which was released in June, we must respectfully decline this time around. We would like to explain why we have decided not to participate.

First, you have provided very little time to prepare the extensive materials in your request. We received your request Nov. 4, with a call that all materials be submitted by Dec. 15. As we are sure the NCTQ can appreciate, it takes an immense amount of time to collect all the course catalogs, syllabi for each of our courses, forms, and other documents that you would like to review.

We are in the midst of completing our self-evaluation brief for our accreditation review by the Teacher Education Accreditation Council. We are also under deadline to submit our mandated annual report to the Michigan Department of Education documenting our teacher-candidates’ opportunities to learn and learning outcomes along a number of dimensions.

See Also

Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, responds to this open letter:

NCTQ Responds to Critics of Its Teacher-Prep Ratings

Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, responds to critics of its teacher-prep ratings.

In fact, the work of reporting and accreditation continues to intensify significantly each year and, along with many others in the K-12 and higher education systems, we are stretched to capacity responding to these many and varied requests while also conducting the work of leading a high-quality teacher education program.

Second, we were disappointed with the process the NCTQ used in its first review of teacher-preparation programs. The bulk of the process focused on the review of course syllabi and other documents, without any consideration of the kind and quality of teaching conducted or what students learn in a program. As multiple observers have noted, rating teacher-preparation programs in this fashion is like a restaurant reviewer deciding on the quality of a restaurant based on its menu alone, without ever tasting the food.

Unlike standards used by national accreditation agencies, the NCTQ report is based on selected, incomplete, and, often, inaccurate data and does not meet credible evaluation standards. As Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University and others have noted, merely using admission standards, course syllabi, textbooks used, and other publicly available sources as the only measures by which to evaluate the quality of teacher-preparation programs fails to account for the actual instruction in teacher-prep courses or student achievement in them.

It seems, according to the NCTQ, that the very activities at the heart of teacher preparation—the enacted curriculum in the nation’s teacher-prep classrooms and the learning derived from it—make no difference. We do not believe the limited data sources used by the NCTQ to evaluate programs can generate a reliable and valid measure of the quality of preparation programs and all the intricate work that takes place in them.

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Focusing on inputs alone excludes the more important task of measuring what teacher preparation does and achieves—that is, the outcomes of preparation programs or their impact on their graduates and their ability to improve P-12 student achievement in the classrooms in which they now teach.

Nor does the NCTQ evaluation include the various programmatic efforts of teacher-preparation programs, such as professional-development and induction programs, provided to in-service teachers as a means to improve the quality of the field experience for those learning to teach, as well as the experiences and achievements of the public school students learning in those classrooms.

Further, many of the criteria and elements used in the NCTQ ratings lack a sufficient research base to warrant their use without additional exploration.

For example, student-selectivity criteria, including grade point averages and SAT or ACT scores, were chosen despite serious questions about whether these thresholds are ultimately related to the quality of teaching; how the relationships between GPA(or test scores) and quality teaching might be mediated by learning experiences provided in the teacher-preparation program; or how setting specific selectivity criteria based on grades and test scores might not account for other equally or more important criteria and experiences for prospective teachers.

We do not believe the limited data sources used by the NCTQ to evaluate programs can generate a reliable and valid measure of the quality of teacher preparation programs."

The performance of students in specific courses or teacher-certification assessments is not included in your methodology, yet we believe those factors are important criteria. Additionally, the criteria for “counting” courses as meeting or not meeting several of the NCTQ elements often rely on the presence of particular words or numbers in the broad descriptions and titles of courses, rather than on consideration of the actual content of those courses or the big ideas and understandings that students might take from their participation in them.

Third, we know there were serious problems with the first set of NCTQ ratings. When the ratings were released, many observers noted the fundamental and serious errors that your review team had made. Some were obvious, such as the fact that Teachers College, Columbia University, received four stars for the selectivity of its undergraduate elementary and secondary education programs, even though the institution does not have undergraduate programs. But there were also less-obvious errors, such as the ones we discovered when we delved into our own ratings. (Michigan State’s undergraduate teacher-preparation programs were awarded an overall two stars out of four.)

It is not clear from the current invitation to participate in the second set of ratings what steps have been taken to minimize these errors.

Finally, it is unclear how the individual standard ratings roll up to program ratings. We submitted four pages of corrections of the errors the NCTQ made in rating our undergraduate elementary and secondary programs, yet these resulted in no change to Michigan State’s overall ratings, despite your acknowledgement of many of these errors. This points to a significant and mystifying disconnect between the evaluations of individual elements and the overall program rating.

We share your goal of strengthening teacher preparation in the nation. Our students deserve the best-prepared, most-dedicated teachers in their classrooms. By focusing only on university-based teacher-preparation programs, however, you are ignoring the tens of thousands of teachers who are being trained in alternative-certification programs each year. To ensure we have the best teachers, rigorous evaluations should be conducted of all teacher-training programs, traditional and alternative alike.

But these evaluations must be based on research and objective evidence that are accepted by professionals in the field for validity and reliability. We do not believe that the NCTQ process meets this standard, and we are joined in that assessment by many of our colleagues around the country.

Going forward, we are looking to collaborate with those in teacher education programs—both university-based and alternative—and with other interested stakeholders to better understand the ways in which teacher-preparation programs can support new teachers in developing the knowledge and practices necessary to effectively teach all students in the constantly changing contexts of K-12 education.

We feel, however, that adding yet another set of reporting requirements that is neither empirically based nor logistically feasible to the work of teacher education programs is not a useful contribution to that understanding. Therefore, we respectfully decline to participate in this year’s National Council on Teacher Quality review.

A version of this article appeared in the December 11, 2013 edition of Education Week as An Open Letter to the NCTQ

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